Friends often told us we would love a family skiing holiday but, for many years, we weren’t sure. We kept promising ourselves we would all learn together but never took the plunge, making excuses about creaking joints and past injuries. Our son eventually learned to ski on a school trip to Italy at the age of 12 but Mum and Dad continued to procrastinate.
Just when I thought I was too old to ever try out skiing for myself, I was asked to review two ski resorts in Colorado, with particular emphasis on their facilities for families. As complete novices, my husband and I could test out the ski schools and report back on the quality of teaching. As parents, we would have a fair idea about what makes a great family-friendly resort.
How to get there?
Yes, it’s a long way to the United States but the nine hour direct flight with BA from Heathrow to Denver leaves at a civilised hour, around lunchtime, and, once you’ve deducted the seven hour time difference, you’re in Colorado at tea-time. Children will be in movie-heaven during the flight and parents will find the time goes surprisingly quickly, especially with complimentary food and drinks.
The resort of Winter Park is around two hours’ drive from the airport. Well-equipped 4-wheel drive mountain carriers can whisk you safely to the resort if you don’t want the hassle of hiring a car yourself. Steamboat Springs is a bit further away, a shade under four hours from Denver. Many visitors, however, fly into its local airport of Yampa Valley, only 25 miles from the resort. You might think about extending your holiday: have a few days in Washington DC or New York then fly into Steamboat?
Some of the best ski resorts in the US can be found in Colorado because the conditions are ideal for the sport. Reliable snow (average annual snowfall at Winter Park is 323 inches), a long season meaning you can ski from October through to April, plus a climate which provides dry, powder snow which makes for superb skiing and boarding. So impressive is the snow, they’ve even registered the term Champagne Powder® as a trademark in Steamboat. Temperatures can get pretty cold but nothing beats a sunny day after a fresh fall of snow: a ‘blue bird day’ is one to remember.
You’re spoilt for choice with the large number of excellent ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains. Both Winter Park and Steamboat have excellent facilities for all levels of skiing ability across thousands of acres of terrain. Winter Park is a destination for accomplished skiers and boarders but it’s also the perfect place for beginners who can practise on proper trails without the worry of hot-shot skiers whizzing past. Steamboat has a fantastic wild west feel about it, a holiday resort with a lively town nearby: it may have the edge if you are looking for a variety of activities off the slopes.
You can’t fail to find the right accommodation to suit your family dynamics: America always seems to get this right. In Winter Park we stayed at the Zephyr Mountain Lodge, the only ski-in ski-out accommodation at the base of the mountain. Ideal for families: 1,2 and 3-bedroomed apartments, with fully-fitted kitchens and large, warm living rooms. Steamboat has a number of hotels and condos hugging the mountainside. Our hotel, Steamboat Grand, was just a minute’s walk from the ski lifts and, with storage for your skis at the base, there was no need to lug everything to and fro. At both resorts, plentiful shuttles and local buses regularly transport people from apartment to mountain.
If you’ve any fussy eaters in your brood, you’ll be relieved to know that all bases are covered here. There’s the ubiquitous pizza, chicken and fries but you will also find fare from all corners of the world: Mexican, Asian, even Scandinavian. Pancakes or paninis for breakfast, soups and salads for lunch and even some spectacular fine-dining opportunities at the top of the mountains, reached by gondolas and snowcats.
At both resorts the teaching is extremely good whether private/group, full day/half day, skiing or boarding. The instructors are patient, encouraging and lots of fun plus there’s no language barrier to worry about. The ski schools for children are second to none: all kids are tracked with a GPS tag which buzzes an alarm to the instructor if a child deviates too far from the group. The tracking system also means that parents can see online exactly where their child has skied each day. We did hear some wonderful stories of two brothers who swapped tags to confuse their instructor and one cheeky lad who attached his to a passing snow-mobile: his parents must have enjoyed watching that trail later in the evening. Parents we chatted to at both resorts told us how impressed they were with the teaching and how reassured they were that their child was safe.
What else can you do?
If you can tear yourselves away from the slopes once you’ve caught the skiing bug, you’ll find that most resorts within the Rocky Mountain National Park provide lots of other fun things to do. At both resorts you can try out tubing (race your kids down an ice-slide in an inflatable tyre), plus you can book ski-biking or cross-country skiing. Still have excess energy? Snowmobiling is also worth a try, as well as snow-shoeing and ice-skating. The ice arena in Steamboat Springs also offers mind-boggling bumper cars on ice and you can try waterslides and an aquatic climbing wall at the Old Town Hot Springs.
A family skiing trip to Colorado certainly comes under the heading of a holiday of a lifetime. It will be more expensive than a skiing holiday in Europe, due to the flights, but having experienced a glorious week of spacious trails, awesome scenery and high levels of customer service, I would say it really is worth considering.
If the instructors can teach me, a less-than-athletic, scaredy-cat 51 year old to ski, they will have your little ones swishing down the mountains in no time. I wish I’d done it years ago.
My trip was courtesy of Winter Park and Steamboat resorts. More information about our trip can be found on my blog www.mumsgoneto.blogspot.com
Direct flights from London Heathrow to Denver with BA. www.britishairways.com
Winter Park Resort, Colorado www.winterparkresort.com
Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado www.steamboat.com